Lincoln in the Bardo

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19-lincoln-in-the-bardo.w245.h368.2xI greatly respect George Saunders even if he is not in my contemporary writer pantheon. Like with all his work, his first novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo” is wonderfully crafted and contains some amazing passages. This is a work of historical fiction in that it centers on Lincoln and his dead son Willie. A bardo is a place between two worlds and in this case a kind of purgatory. A cast of fictional characters comprise a Greek chorus-like ghost contingent and have an observer effect on the plot as they both report the action and drive the narrative with their various antics. Although I appreciate that structure, what I love most about this novel is the Faulknerian approach to storytelling — the way the input and data from various characters creates a cumulative perspective and intelligible, singular cubist rendering of the subject. Lincoln’s physical appearance, for example is described by many individuals and the variety of views creates a vivid realistic portrait. This Proustian method is always appealing to me as it gets to the heart and nature of perception itself. What we see is constructed from a combination of many past, present and future moments and our best writers show how that process, which lies at the core of human nature, works.

Nicole Charbonnet

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